Common visual symptoms of floaters present themselves in my office on a daily basis and are very common with aging. Let’s talk more about floaters. Usually, the patient will comment about seeing little dots, lines, “worms” or “cells” in one or both eyes.
When asked, patients will report seeing these whenever the lights are bright. They do not see them when the lights are dim. What is the patient seeing and what caused them to form? To understand floaters we need to discuss normal eye anatomy.
The eye is a globe that has the optic nerve attached to the back of this globe. Inside the globe is a jelly-like substance called the vitreous. Toward the front of the globe we find the lens.
While we are developing inside the womb, the lens needs a blood supply to develop. There is an artery that forms from the optic nerve, passes through the vitreous gel and attaches to the back of the lens. This artery is called the hyaloid artery and it allows blood to flow to the lens providing the nutrients to allow the lens to develop.
About three months after we are born, the lens does not need blood anymore. The hyaloid artery that is attached to the optic nerve and to the back of the now developed lens degenerates into little pieces. The little pieces of the degenerated artery are imbedded in the vitreous gel.
When we are young, the vitreous has the consistency of jello. As we all age, the vitreous gel changes into a water type liquid. The little pieces of the degenerated artery that was once embedded in the jello will start to float around more.
If you allow a lot of light into the eye, the light will cast a shadow of these little pieces of degenerated artery onto the retina, and that is what the person is seeing. If you study the little pieces you can tell it was once a hollow tube. Sometimes they are curled like a pigtail.
When I am thinking about my own floaters and I look at the dark wall in my exam room I do not see my floaters. If I now look at my bright computer screen I see my floaters. I have more in one eye compared to the other. They will not do any harm to the eye but can be annoying.
If a person is really annoyed a vitrectomy can be performed. This procedure involves removing the vitreous gel and replacing it with saline. When you remove the gel you also remove the degenerated artery remnants, which will get rid of the floaters.
This is considered a high-risk procedure because the retina can be torn, which can lead to problems including blindness. So a person has to be very annoyed before considering having this done.
If you are seeing “floaters” or any other objects in your vision, it is important for you to see an eye doctor to check your eyes to give a proper diagnosis of floaters or any other issues. The doctors at Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida would be pleased to examine your eyes and assist you with any vision needs or concerns.
By Dr. William Corkins, O.D., Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida